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A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 20, 21, 22
1. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which
went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
[Who went out early in the morning to hire labourers.] You have such a parable
as this, but madly applied, in the Talmud: we will produce it here for the sake of some
phrases: "To what was R. Bon Bar Chaija like? To a king who hired many labourers;
among which there was one hired, who performed his work extraordinary well. What did the
king? He took him aside, and walked with him to and fro. When even was come, those
labourers came, that they might receive their hire, and he gave him a complete hire
with the rest. And the labourers murmured, saying, 'We have laboured hard all
the day, and this man only two hours, yet he hath received as much wages as we': the
king saith to them, 'He hath laboured more in those two hours than you in the whole day.'
So R. Bon plied the law more in eight-and-twenty years than another in a hundred
[Early in the morning.] "The time of working is from sunrising to the
appearing of the stars, and not from break of day: and this is proved from the chapter the
president of the priests saith to them; where they say, 'It is light all in the east,
and men go out to hire labourers': whence it is argued that they do not begin their work
before the sun riseth. It is also proved from the tract Pesachin, where it is said
that it is prohibited on the day of the Passover to do any servile work after the sun is
up; intimating this, that that was the time when labourers should begin their work,"
[To hire labourers.] Read here, if you please, the tract Bava Mazia, cap.
7; which begins thus, He that hireth labourers: and Maimonides, a tract entitled Hiring.
2. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into
[Agreed for a penny a day.] A penny of silver, which one of gold exceeded
twenty-four times; for A penny of gold is worth five-and-twenty of silver. The
canons of the Hebrews concerning hiring of labourers distinguish, as reason requires,
between being hired by the day, and being hired (only) for some hours:
which may be observed also in this parable: for in the morning they are hired for all the
day, and for a penny, but afterward for certain hours; and have a part of a penny allotted
them, in proportion to the time they wrought.
8. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the
labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
[Call the labourers.] For "it is one of the affirmative precepts of the
law, that a hired labourer should have his wages paid him when they are due, as it is
said, 'You shall pay him his wages in his day': and if they be detained longer, it is a
breach of a negative precept; as it is said, 'The sun shall not go down upon him,'"
13. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not
thou agree with me for a penny?
[Didst not thou agree with me for a penny?] In hiring of labourers, the custom
of the place most prevailed; hence came that axiom, Observe the custom of the city;
speaking of this very thing. There is also an example, "Those of Tiberias that went
up to Bethmeon to be hired for labourers, were hired according to the custom of
Bethmeon," &c. By the by also we may observe that which is said by the
Babylonians in the place cited...as the Gloss renders it, "Notice must be taken
whether they come from several places; for at some places they go to work sooner, and at
Hence two things may be cleared in the parable before us: 1. Why they are said to be
hired at such different hours; namely, therefore, because they are supposed to have come
together from several places. 2. Why there was no certain agreement made with those that
were hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, as with those that were hired early in
the morning; but that he should only say, "Whatsoever is right I will give you":
that is, supposing that they would submit to the custom of the place. But, indeed, when
their wages were to be paid them, there is, by the favour of the lord of the vineyard, an
equality made between those that were hired for some hours, and those that were hired for
the whole day; and when these last murmured, they are answered from their own agreement, You
agreed with me. Note here the canon; "The master of the family saith to his
servant, 'Go, hire me labourers for fourpence': he goes and hires them for threepence;
although their labour deserves fourpence, they shall not receive but three, because
they bound themselves by agreement, and their complaint is against the servant."
22. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of
the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized
with? They say unto him, We are able.
[The baptism that I am baptized with.] The phrase that goes before this,
concerning the cup, is taken from divers places of Scripture, where sad and
grievous things are compared to draughts of a bitter cup. You may think that the cup of
vengeance, of which there is mention in Bab. Beracoth, means the same thing,
but it is far otherwise: give me leave to quote it, though it be somewhat out of our
bounds: "Let them not talk (say they) over their cup of blessing; and let them not
bless over their cup of vengeance. What is the cup of vengeance? The second cup,
saith R. Nachman Bar Isaac." Rabbena Asher and Piske are more clear: "If he
shall drink off two cups, let him not bless over the third." The Gloss, "He that
drinks off double cups is punished by devils." But to the matter before us.
So cruel a thing was the baptism of the Jews, being a plunging of the whole body into
water, when it was never so much chilled with ice and snow, that, not without cause,
partly, by reason of the burying as I may call it under water, and partly by reason
of the cold, it used to signify the most cruel kind of death. The Jerusalem Talmudists
relate, that "in the days of Joshua Ben Levi, some endeavoured quite to take away the
washings [baptisms] of women, because the women of Galilee grew barren by reason of
the coldness of the waters"; which we noted before at the sixth verse of the third
1. And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the
mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
[To the mount of Olives.] Mons Olivarum, Zechariah 14:4.
2. Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall
find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
[An ass and her foal.] In the Talmudists we have the like phrase, an ass and
a little colt. In that treatise Mezia, they speak concerning a hired ass, and the
terms that the hired is obliged to. Among other things there, the Babylon Gemara hath
these words, Whosoever transgresses against the will of the owner is called a robber.
For instance, if any one hires an ass for a journey on the plains, and turns up to the
mountains, &c. Hence this of our Saviour appears to be a miracle, not a robbery; that
without any agreement or terms this ass should be led away; and that the owner and those
that stood by should be satisfied with these bare words, "The Lord hath need of
5. Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and
sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
[Meek, and sitting upon an ass.] This triumph of Christ completes a double
prophecy: 1. This prophecy of Zechariah here mentioned. 2. The taking to themselves the
Paschal lamb, for this was the very day on which it was to be taken, according to the
command of the law, Exodus 12:3; "In the tenth day of this month, they shall take to
them every man a lamb."
It scarce appears to the Talmudists, how those words of Daniel concerning the Messias,
that "he comes with the clouds of heaven," are consistent with these words of
Zechariah, that "he comes sitting upon an ass." "If (say they) the
Israelites be good, then he shall come with the clouds of heaven; but if not good, then
riding upon an ass." Thou art much mistaken, O Jew: for he comes "in the clouds
of heaven," as judge and revenger; but sitting upon an ass, not because you
are, but because he is, good. "King Sapores said to Samuel, 'You say your
Messias will come upon an ass, I will send him a brave horse.' He answers him, 'You have
not a horse with a hundred spots as is his ass." In the greatest humility of the
Messias they dream of grandeur, even in his very ass.
8. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down
branches from the trees, and strowed them in the way.
[Strewed branches in the way.] Not that they strewed garments and boughs just in
the way under the feet of the ass to be trod on; this perhaps might have thrown down the
rider; but by the wayside they made little tents and tabernacles of clothes and boughs,
according to the custom of the feast of Tabernacles. John also adds, that taking branches
of palm trees in their hands, they went forth to meet him. That book of Maimonides
entitled Tabernacles and palm branches, will be an excellent comment on this place,
and so will the Talmudic treatise, Succah. We will pick out these few things, not
unsuitable to the present story: "Doth any one spread his garment on his tabernacle
against the heat of the sun, &c.? it is absurd; but if he spread his garment for
comeliness and ornament, it is approved." Again, "The boughs of palm trees, of
which the law, Leviticus 23:40, speaks, are the young growing sprouts of palms, before
their leaves shoot out on all sides; but when they are like small staves, and these are
called young branches of palms." And a little after, "It is a notable
precept, to gather young branches of palms, the boughs of myrtle and willow, and to
make them up into a small bundle, and to carry them in their hands," &c.
9. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to
the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the
[Hosanna to the Son of David.] Some are at a loss why it is said to the Son,
and not O Son: wherefore they fly to Caninius as to an oracle, who tells us, that
those very bundles of boughs are called Hosanna; and that these words, Hosanna
to the Son of David, signify no more than boughs to the Son of David. We will
not deny that bundles are sometimes so called, as seems in these clauses...where it
is plain, that a branch of palm is called Lulab, and boughs of myrtle and willow
bound together are called Hosanna: but, indeed, if Hosanna to the Son of David
signifies boughs to the Son of David, what do those words mean, Hosanna in the
highest? The words therefore here sung import as much as if it were said, We now
sing Hosanna to the Messias.
In the feast of Tabernacles, the great Hallel, as they call it, used to be sung,
that is, Psalm 113-118. And while the words of the Psalms were sung or said by one, the
whole company used sometimes to answer at certain clauses, Halleluia. Sometimes the
same clauses that had been sung or said were again repeated by the company: sometimes the
bundles of boughs were brandished or shaken. "But when were the bundles shaken?"
The rubric of the Talmud saith, "At that clause Give thanks unto the Lord, in
the beginning of Psalm 118, and at the end. And at that clause, Save now, I beseech
thee, O Lord, (Psa 118:25) as saith the school of Hillel: but the school of Shammai
saith also, at that clause, O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. R. Akibah
said, I saw R. Gamaliel and R. Joshuah, when all the company shook their bundles they did
not shake theirs, but only at that clause, Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord."
On every day of the feast, they used once to go round the altar with bundles in their
hands, singing this, Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord; I beseech thee, O Lord, send now
prosperity. But on the seventh day of the feast they went seven times round the altar,
&c. "The tossing or shaking of the bundles was on the right hand, on the left
hand, upwards and downwards."
"The reason of the bundles was this, because it is written, 'Then let all the
trees of the wood sing,' (Psa 96:12). And afterward it is written, 'Give thanks unto the
Lord, because he is good,' (Psa 106:1). And afterward, 'Save us, O Lord, O our God,'
&c. (Psa 106:47). And the reason is mystical. In the beginning of the year, Israel and
the nations of the world go forth to judgment; and being ignorant who are to be cleared
and who guilty, the holy and blessed God commanded Israel that they should rejoice with
these bundles, as a man rejoiceth who goeth out of the presence of his judge acquitted.
Behold, therefore, what is written, 'Let the trees of the wood sing'; as if it were said,
Let them sing with the trees of the wood, when they go out justified from the presence of
the Lord," &c.
"The Temple: Its Ministry and
Services" by Alfred Edersheim.]
[For more information on feast days, please see
These things being premised concerning the rites and customs of that feast, we now
return to our story:--
I. It is very much worth our observation, that the company receives Christ coming now
to the Passover with the solemnity of the feast of Tabernacles. For what hath this to do
with the time of the Passover? If one search into the reason of the thing more accurately,
these things occur; First, The mirth of that feast above all others; concerning which
there needs not much to be said, since the very name of the feast (for by way of emphasis
it was called Festivity or Mirth) sufficiently proves it. Secondly, That
prophecy of Zechariah, which, however it be not to be understood according to the letter,
yet from thence may sufficiently be gathered the singular solemnity and joy of that feast
above all others; and, perhaps, from that same prophecy, the occasion of this present
action was taken. For being willing to receive the Messias with all joyfulness, triumph,
and affection of mind (for by calling him the Son of David, it is plain they took
him for the Messias), they had no way to express a more ardent zeal and joy at his
coming, than by the solemn procession of that feast. They have the Messias before their
eyes; they expect great things from him; and are therefore transported with excess of joy
at his coming.
II. But whereas the Great Hallel, according to the custom, was not now sung, by
reason of the suddenness of the present action, the whole solemnity of that song was, as
it were, swallowed up in the frequent crying out and echoing back of Hosanna; as
they used to do in the Temple, while they went round the altar. And one while they sing Hosanna
to the Son of David; another while, Hosanna in the highest; as if they had
said, "Now we sing Hosanna to the Son of David; save us, we beseech thee, O thou
[who dwellest] in the highest, save us by the Messias."
12. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and
bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them
that sold doves,
[He cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple.] I. There was always a
constant market in the Temple in that place which was called the shops; where every
day was sold wine, salt, oil, and other requisites to sacrifices; as also oxen and sheep,
in the spacious Court of the Gentiles.
II. The nearness of the Passover had made the market greater; for innumerable beasts
being requisite to this solemnity, they were brought hither to be sold. This brings to
mind a story of Bava Ben Buta: "He coming one day into the court found it quite empty
of beasts. 'Let their houses,' said he, 'be laid waste, who have laid waste the house of
our God.' He sent for three thousand of the sheep of Kedar; and having examined whether
they were without spot, brought them into the Mountain of the House"; that is, into
the Court of the Gentiles.
[Overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.] Who those moneychangers
were, may be learned very well from the Talmud, and Maimonides in the treatise Shekalim:--
"It is an affirmative precept of the law, that every Israelite should give half a
shekel yearly: even the poor, who live by alms, are obliged to this; and must either beg
the money of others, or sell their clothes to pay half a shekel; as it is said, 'The rich
shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less.'"
"In the first day of the month Adar, they made a public proclamation concerning
these shekels, that every one should provide his half shekel, and be ready to pay it.
Therefore, on the fifteenth day of the same month, the exchangers sat in every
city, civilly requiring this money: they received it of those that gave it, and compelled
those that did not. On the five-and-twentieth day of the same month they sat in the
Temple; and then compelled them to give; and from him that did not give they forced a
pledge, even his very coat."
"They sat in the cities, with two chests before them; in one of which they laid up
the money of the present year, and in the other the money of the year past. They sat in
the Temple with thirteen chests before them; the first was for the money of the present
year; the second, for the year past; the third, for the money that was offered to buy
pigeons," &c. They called these chests trumpets, because, like trumpets,
they had a narrow mouth, and a wide belly.
"It is necessary that every one should have half a shekel to pay for himself.
Therefore, when he comes to the exchanger to change a shekel for two half shekels, he is
obliged to allow him some gain, which is called kolbon. And when two pay one shekel
[between them], each of them is obliged to allow the same gain or fee."
And not much after, "How much is that gain? At that time when they paid
pence for the half shekel, a kolbon [or the fee that was paid to the moneychanger]
was half a mea, that is, the twelfth part of a penny, and never less. But the kolbons
were not like the half shekel; but the exchangers laid them by themselves till the holy
treasury were paid out of them." You see what these moneychangers were, and
whence they had their name. You see that Christ did not overturn the chests in which the
holy money was laid up, but the tables on which they trafficked for this unholy gain.
[Of those that sold doves] Sellers of doves. See the Talmudic treatise of
that title. "Doves were at one time sold at Jerusalem for pence of gold.
Whereupon Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel said, By this temple I will not lie down this
night, unless they be sold for pence of silver, &c. Going into the council-house, he
thus decreed, A woman of five undoubted labours, or of five undoubted fluxes, shall be
bound only to make one offering; whereby doves were sold that very day for two
farthings." The offering for women after childbirth, and fluxes, for their
purification, were pigeons, &c. But now, when they went up to Jerusalem with their
offerings at the feasts only, there was at that time a greater number of beasts, pigeons,
and turtles, &c. requisite. See what we have said at the fifth chapter, and the
15. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and
the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore
[The children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna.] Children, from
their first infancy, were taught to manage the bundles, to shake them, and in shaking, to
sing Hosanna. A child, so soon as he knows how to wave the bundle, is bound to carry a
bundle Where the Gemara saith thus; "The Rabbins teach, that so soon as a little
child can be taught to manage a bundle, he is bound to carry one: so soon as he knows how
to veil himself, he must put on the borders: as soon as he knows how to keep his father's
phylacteries, he must put on his own: as soon as he can speak, let his father teach him
the law, and to say the phylacteries," &c.
19. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon,
but leaves only and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And
presently the fig tree withered away.
[Found nothing thereon but leaves only.] This place is not a little obscure,
being compared with Mark 11:13, who seems to say, that therefore figs were not found on
this tree, because it was not yet the time of figs. Why then did our Saviour expect
figs, when he might certainly know that it was not yet the time of figs? And why,
not finding them, did he curse the tree, being innocent and agreeable to its own nature?
I. We will first consider the situation of this tree. Our evangelist saith, that it was
in the way. This minds me of a distinction used very often by the Talmudists,
between the fruits of trees of common right, which did not belong to any peculiar
master, but grew in woody places, or in common fields; and the fruits of trees
which grew in gardens, orchards, or fields, that had a proper owner. How much difference
was made between these fruits by the canonists, as to tithing, and as to eating, is in
many places to be met with through the whole classes, entitled Seeds. This fig-tree
seems to have been of the former kind: a wild fig-tree, growing in a place or
field, not belonging to any one in particular, but common to all. So that our
Saviour did not injure any particular person, when he caused this tree to wither; but it
was such a tree, that it could not be said of it, that it was mine or thine.
II. He found nothing thereon but leaves, because the time of figs was not yet a
great while, Mark 11:13.
1. "At what time in the seventh year do they forbear to lop their trees? The
school of Shammai saith All trees from that time, they bring forth [leaves]."
The Gloss, "The beginning of leaves is in the days of Nisan."
2. "Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel saith, From the putting forth of leaves, till there
be green figs, is fifty days; from the green figs, till the buds fall off, fifty days; and
from that time till the figs be ripe are fifty days." If, therefore, the first
putting out of the leaves was in the month Nisan, and that was five months' time before
the figs came to be ripe, it is plain enough that the figs of that year coming on were not
expected by our Saviour, nor could be expected.
That we may pursue the matter somewhat home, and make it appear that the text of Mark,
as it is commonly read, for the time of figs was not yet, is uncorrupted,
I. We must first observe what is said about the intercalation of the year: "They
intercalate the year upon three accounts; for the green year, for the fruit of the tree,
and for Tekupha." Maimonides is more large; whom see. Now if you ask what
means the intercalation for the fruit of the tree, the Gloss answers, "If the fruit
be not ripened till Pentecost is past, they intercalate the year; because Pentecost is the
time of bringing the firstfruits: and if at that time one should not bring them along with
him when he comes to the feast, he would be obliged to make another journey." But now
this is not to be understood of all trees, but of some only, which put forth their fruit
about the time of the Passover, and have them ripe at the feast of Pentecost. For thus
Maimonides in the place cited: "If the council sees that there is not yet any green
ear, and that the fruit of the trees which used to bud at the feast of the Passover is not
yet budded [mark that, 'used to bud'], moved by these two causes, they intercalate the
year." Among these the fig-tree can by no means be reckoned: for since, our Saviour
being witness, the putting forth of its leaves is a sign that summer is at hand, you could
not expect any ripe figs, nay (according to the Talmudists), not so much as the putting
out of leaves, before the Passover. When it is before said that Pentecost was the time of
bringing the firstfruits, it must not be so understood as if the firstfruits of all trees
were then to be brought, but that before Pentecost it was not lawful to bring any; for
thus it is provided for by a plain canon, "The firstfruits are not to be brought
before Pentecost. The inhabitants of mount Zeboim brought theirs before Pentecost, but
they did not receive them of them, because it is said in the law, 'And the feast of
harvest, the firstfruit of thy labours which thou hast sown in thy field.'"
II. There are several kinds of figs mentioned in the Talmudists besides these common
ones; namely, figs of a better sort, which grew in gardens and paradises: 1. Shithin.
Concerning which the tract Demai, among those things which were accounted to deserve
lesser care, and among those things which were doubtful as to tithing were shithin:
which the Glosser tells us were wild figs. 2. There is mention also in the same
place of...a fig mixed with a plane-tree. 3. But among all those kinds of figs,
they were memorable which were called a kind of fig; and they yet more, which were
called white figs; which, unless I mistake, make to our purpose: not that they were
more noble than the rest, but their manner of bearing fruit was more unusual. There is
mention of these in Sheviith, in these words, we will render the words in the
paraphrase of the Glossers: "...white figs, and a kind of fig: the
seventh year" (that is, the year of release) "is to those the second" (viz
of the seven years following); "to these, the gong out of the seventh. White figs
put forth fruit every year, but it is ripe only every third year: so that on that tree
every year one might see three sorts of fruit, namely, of the present year, of the past,
and of the year before that. Thus the kind of fig bring forth ripe fruit in two
Concerning white figs thus the Jerusalem Gemara: "Do they bear fruit every
year, or once in three years? They bear fruit every year; but the fruit is not ripe till
the third year. But how may one know which is the fruit of each year? R. Jona saith, 'By
the threads that hang to them.' The tradition of Samuel, 'He makes little strings hang to
III. The fruit of very many trees hung upon them all the winter, by the mildness of the
weather, if they were not gathered or shaken off by the wind: nay, they ripened in winter.
Hence came those cautions about tithing: "The tree which puts forth its fruit before
the beginning of the year of the world" [that is, before the beginning of the month
Tisri, in which month the world was created], "must be tithed for the year past: but
if after the beginning of the world, then it must be tithed for the year coming on. R.
Judan Bar Philia answered before R. Jonah, 'Behold the tree Charob puts forth its fruits
before the beginning of the world, and yet it is tithed for the year following.' R. Jissa
saith, 'If it puts forth a third part before the year of the world, it must be tithed for
the year past; but if after, then for the year following.' R. Zeira answers before R.
Jissa 'Sometimes palm-trees do not bring forth part of their fruit till after the
beginning of the year of the world; and yet they must be tithed for the year before.'
Samuel Bar Abba saith, 'If it puts forth the third part of its fruit before the fifteenth
day of the month Shebat, it is to be tithed for the year past; if after the fifteenth day
of the month Shebat, for the year to come.'" Hence that axiom in Rosh Hashanah,
"The first day of the month Shebat is the beginning of the year for trees, according
to the school of Shammai; but, according to that of Hillel, the fifteenth day."
However, fig-trees were not among those trees that put forth their fruit after the
beginning of Tisri; for you have seen before, out of the Talmudists, that they used to put
forth their leaves in the month Nisan: and that their fruit used to be ripe in thrice
fifty days after this. Yet, perhaps, it may be objected about them, what we meet with in
the Jerusalem Gemara, at the place before cited: "One gathers figs (say they), and
knows not at what time they were put forth" (and thereby is at a loss for what year
to tithe them). "R. Jonah saith, 'Let him reckon a hundred days backwards; and if the
fifteenth day of the month Shebat falls within that number, then he may know when they
were put forth.'" But this must be understood of figs of a particular sort, which do
not grow after the usual manner, which is plain also from that which follows; for,
"they say to him, 'With you at Tiberias there are fig-trees that bear fruit in one
year': to which he answers, 'Behold, with you at Zippor there are trees that bear fruit in
two years.'" Concerning common fig-trees, their ordinary time of putting out green
figs was sufficiently known; as also the year of tithing them: but concerning those trees
of another sort, which had ripe fruit only in two or three years, it is no wonder if they
were at a loss in both.
IV. Christ, therefore, came to the tree seeking fruit on it, although the ordinary time
of figs was not yet; because it was very probable that some fruit might be found there. Of
the present year, indeed, he neither expected nor could expect any fruit, when it was so
far from being the time of figs, that it was almost five months off: and it may be
doubted whether it had yet so much as any leaves of the present year. It was now the month
Nisan, and that month was the time of the first putting out of leaves; so that if the buds
of the leaves had just peeped forth, they were so tender, small, and scarce worth the name
of leaves (for it was but the eleventh day of the month), that to expect figs of the same
year with those leaves had not been only in vain, but ridiculous. Those words seem to
denote something peculiar, having leaves; as if the other trees thereabout had been
without leaves, or, at least, had not such leaves as promised figs. Mark seems to give the
reason why he came rather to that tree than to any other; namely, because he saw leaves on
it, and thereby hoped to find figs. "For when he saw (saith he) a fig tree afar off
having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon." From the leaves he
had hopes of figs: these, therefore, certainly were not the leaves of the present spring,
for those were hardly so much as in being yet: but they were either the leaves of the year
past, that had hung upon the tree all winter; or else this tree was of that kind which had
figs and leaves together hanging on it for two or three years before the fruit grew ripe.
And I rather approve of this latter sense, which both renders the matter itself more
clear, and better solves the difficulties that arise from the words of Mark. This tree, it
seems, had leaves which promised fruit, and others had not so; whereas, had they all been
of the same kind, it is likely they would all have had leaves after the same manner. But
when others had lost all their leaves of the former year by winds and the winter, and
those of the present year were not as yet come out, this kept its leaves, according to its
nature and kind, both summer and winter. St. Mark, therefore, in that clause, which
chiefly perplexes interpreters, for the time of figs was not yet, doth not strictly
and only give the reason why he found no figs, but gives the reason of the whole action;
namely, why on that mountain which abounded with fig trees he saw but one that had such
leaves; and being at a great distance when he saw it, he went to it, expecting figs only
from it. The reason, saith he, was this, "Because it was not the usual time of
figs": for had it been so, he might have gathered figs from the trees about him; but
since it was not, all his expectation was from this, which seemed to be the kind of fig or
white fig, which never wanted leaves or figs. For to take an instance in the tree: That
tree (suppose) bore figs such a summer, which hung upon the boughs all the following
winter; it bore others also next summer; and those, together with the former, hung on the
boughs all this winter too: the third summer it bore a third degree, and this summer
brought those of the first bearing to ripeness, and so onwards continually; so that it was
no time to be found without fruit of several years. It is less, therefore, to be wondered
at, if that which promised so much fruitfulness by its looks, that one might have expected
from it at least the fruit of two years, did so far deceive the hopes it had raised, as
not to afford one fig; if that, I say, should suffer a just punishment from our Lord, whom
it had so much, in appearance, disappointed: an emblem of the punishment that was to be
inflicted upon the Jews for their spiritual barrenness and hypocrisy.
21. Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and
doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye
shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be
[But if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the
sea; it shall be done.] this is a hyperbolical way of speaking, taken from the common
language of the schools of the Jews, and designed after a manner for their refutation.
Such a hyperbole concerning this very mountain you have Zechariah 14:4.
The Jews used to set out those teachers among them, that were more eminent for the
profoundness of their learning, or the splendour of their virtues, by such expressions as
this; He is a rooter up (or a remover) of mountains. "Rabh
Joseph is Sinai, and Rabbah is a rooter up of mountains." The Gloss;
"They called Rabh Joseph Sinai, because he was very skilful in clearing of
difficulties; and Rabbah Bar Nachmani, A rooter up of mountains, because he had a
piercing judgment." "Rabba said, I am like Ben Azzai in the streets of
Tiberias." The Gloss; "Like Ben Azzai, who taught profoundly in the streets of
Tiberias; nor was there in his days such another rooter up of mountains as he."
"He saw Resh Lachish in the school, as if he were plucking up mountains and
grinding them one upon another."
The same expression with which they sillily and flatteringly extolled the learning and
virtue of their men, Christ deservedly useth to set forth the power of faith, as able to
do all things, Mark 9:23.
33. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard,
and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out
to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
[Planted a vineyard.] Concerning vines and their husbandry see Kilaim, where
there is a large discourse of the beds of a vineyard, the orders of the vines, of the
measure of the winepress, of the hedge, of the trenches, of the void space, of the places
within the hedge which were free from vines, whether they were to be sown or not to be
35. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and
[Beat; killed; stoned.] There seems to be an allusion to the punishments and
manners of death in the council: 1. Beat, which properly signifies the flaying off of
the skin, is not amiss rendered by interpreters beat; and the word seems to
related to whipping where forty stripes save one did miserably flay off the skin
of the poor man...2. Killed, signifies a death by the sword...Four kinds of
death are delivered to the Sanhedrim, stoning, burning, killing, and strangling.
38. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the
heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
[This is the heir, &c.] Compare this verse with John 11:48; and it seems to
hint, that the rulers of the Jews acknowledged among themselves that Christ was the
Messias; but being strangely transported beside their senses, they put him to death; lest,
bringing in another worship and another people, he should either destroy or suppress their
worship and themselves.
44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it
shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
[And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, &c.] Here is a
plain allusion to the manner of stoning, concerning which thus Sanhedrim: "The
place of stoning was twice as high as a man. From the top of this, one of the witnesses
striking him on his loins felled him to the ground: if he died of this, well; if not, the
other witness threw a stone upon his heart," &c. "R. Simeon Ben Eleazar
saith, There was a stone there as much as two could carry: this they threw upon his
9. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the
[Go ye into the highways, &c.] That is, 'Bring in hither the travellers.'
"What is the order of sitting down to meat? The travellers come in and sit down upon
benches or chairs, till all are come that were invited." The Gloss; "It was a
custom among rich men to invite poor travellers to feasts."
16. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master,
we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for
any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
[With the Herodians.] Many things are conjectured concerning the Herodians.
I make a judgment of them from that history which is produced by the author Juchasin,
speaking of Hillel and Shammai. "Heretofore (saith he) Hillel and Menahem were (heads
of the council); but Menahem withdrew into the family of Herod, together with eighty men
bravely clad." These, and such as these, I suppose were called Herodians, who
partly got into the court, and partly were of the faction both of the father and son. With
how great opposition of the generality of the Jewish people Herod ascended and kept the
throne, we have observed before. There were some that obstinately resisted him; others
that as much defended him: to these was deservedly given the title of Herodians; as
endeavouring with all their might to settle the kingdom in his family: and they, it seems,
were of the Sadducean faith and doctrine; and it is likely had leavened Herod, who was now
tetrarch, with the same principles. For (as we noted before) 'the leaven of the Sadducees'
in Matthew, is in Mark 'the leaven of Herod.' And it was craftily contrived on both sides
that they might be a mutual establishment to one another, they to his kingdom, and he to
their doctrine. When I read of Manaem or Menahem, the foster-brother of Herod the
tetrarch, it readily brings to my mind the name and story before mentioned of Menahem, who
carried over with him so many eminent persons to the court of Herod.
20. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
[Whose is this image and superscription?] They endeavour by a pernicious
subtilty to find out whether Christ were of the same opinion with Judas of Galilee. Which
opinion those lewd disturbers of all things, whom Josephus brands everywhere under the
name of zealots, had taken up; stiffly denying obedience and tribute to a Roman
prince; because they persuaded themselves and their followers that it was a sin to submit
to a heathen government. What great calamities the outrageous fury of this conceit brought
upon the people, both Josephus and the ruins of Jerusalem at this day testify. They chose
Caesar before Christ; and yet because they would neither have Caesar nor Christ, they
remain sad monuments to all ages of the divine vengeance and their own madness. To this
fury those frequent warnings of the apostles do relate, "That every one should submit
himself to the higher powers." And the characters of these madmen, "they contemn
dominations," and "they exalt themselves against every thing that is called
Christ answers the treachery of the question propounded, out of the very determinations
of the schools, where this was taught, "Wheresoever the money of any king is current,
there the inhabitants acknowledge that king for their lord." Hence is that of the
Jerusalem Sanhedrim: "Abigail said to David, 'What evil have I done, or my
sons, or my cattle?' He answered, 'Your husband vilifies my kingdom.' 'Are you then,' said
she, 'a king?' To which he, 'Did not Samuel anoint me for a king?' She replied, 'The
money of our lord Saul as yet is current'": that is, 'Is not Saul to be accounted
king, while his money is still received commonly by all?'
23. The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection,
and asked him,
[The Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection.] "The Sadducees
cavil, and say, The cloud faileth and passeth away; so he that goeth down to the grave
doth not return." Just after the same rate of arguing as they use that deny infant
baptism; because, forsooth, in the law there is no express mention of the resurrection.
Above, we suspected that the Sadducees were Herodians, that is to say, courtiers: but
these here mentioned were of a more inferior sort.
32. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not
the God of the dead, but of the living.
[God is not the God of the dead.] Read, if you please, the beginning of the
chapter Chelek, where you will observe with what arguments and inferences the Talmudists
maintain the resurrection of the dead out of the law; namely, by a manner of
arguing not unlike this of our Saviour's. We will produce only this one; "R. Eliezer
Ben R. Josi said, In this matter I accused the scribes of the Samaritans of falsehood,
while they say, That the resurrection of the dead cannot be proved out of the law. I told
them, You corrupt your law, and it is nothing which you carry about in your hands; for you
say, That the resurrection of the dead is not in the law, when it saith, 'That soul shall
be utterly cut off; his iniquity is upon him.' 'Shall be utterly cut off'; namely, in this
world. 'His iniquity is upon him': when? Is it not in the world to come?" I have
quoted this, rather than the others which are to be found in the same place; because they
seem here to tax the Samaritan text of corruption; when, indeed, both the text and the
version, as may easily be observed, agree very well with the Hebrew. When, therefore, the
Rabbin saith, that they have corrupted their law, he doth not so much deny the
purity of the text, as reprove the vanity of the interpretation: as if he had said,
"You interpret your law falsely, when you do not infer the resurrection from those
words which speak it so plainly."
With the present argument of our Saviour compare, first, those things which are said by
R. Tanchum: "R. Simeon Ben Jochai saith, God, holy and blessed, doth not join his
name to holy men while they live, but only after their death; as it is said, 'To the
saints that are in the earth.' When are they saints? When they are laid in the earth; for
while they live, God doth not join his name to them; because he is not sure but that some
evil affection may lead them astray: but when they are dead, then he joins his name to
them. But we find that God joined his name to Isaac while he was living: 'I am the God of
Abraham and the God of Isaac.' The Rabbins answer, He looked on his dust as if it were
gathered upon the altar. R. Berachiah said, Since he became blind, he was in a manner
dead." See also R. Menahem on the Law.
Compare also those words of the Jerusalem Gemara: "The righteous, even in death,
are said to live; and the wicked, even in life, are said to be dead. But how is it proved
that the wicked, even in life, are said to be dead? From that place where it is said, I
have no delight in the death of the dead. Is he already dead, that is already here
called dead? And whence is it proved that the righteous, even in death, are said to
live? From that passage, 'And he said to him, This is the land, concerning which I sware
to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob'...He saith to him, Go and tell the fathers, whatsoever
I promised to you, I have performed to your children."
The opinion of the Babylonians is the same; "The living know that they shall die.
They are righteous who, in their death, are said to live: as it is said, 'And Benaiah, the
son of Jehoiada, the son of a living man,' [The son of a valiant man. A.V. 2
Samuel 23:20] " &c. And a little after; "The dead know nothing: They are the
wicked who, even in their life, are called dead, as it is said, And thou, dead
wicked prince of Israel." The word which is commonly rendered profane in
this place, they render it also in a sense very usual, namely, for one wounded or dead.
There are, further, divers stories alleged, by which they prove that the dead so far
live, that they understand many things which are done here; and that some have spoke after
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